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Conrad v. CSX Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 15, 2014

WILLIAM CONRAD
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC

MEMORANDUM

WILLIAM M. NICKERSON, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant CSX Transportation's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 19. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for review. Upon a review of the papers, facts, and applicable law, the Court determines (1) that no hearing is necessary, Local Rule 105.6, and (2) the motion will be granted.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff William Conrad (Mr. Conrad) brings this action against CSX Transportation (CSX) alleging violations of the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA) 49 U.S.C. ยง 20109. Mr. Conrad is a conductor for CSX and has been employed by CSX since April 27, 2003. He is also a member of United Transportation Union Local 340 and served as Local Chairman from 2009 to 2012. CSX is a freight railroad operating over 20, 000 miles of track in 23 states, the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces. Conrad works mostly in the Cumberland Yard, part of CSX's Baltimore Division, which covers territory in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia.

Mr. Conrad's cause of action arises from two "serious offense" violations brought against him by CSX which, he alleges, were in retaliation for two incidents where he reported CSX safety violations and objected to his Union Members being asked to engage in what he saw as unsafe conduct. These incidents are referred to as the "Deineen Incident" and the "Demmler Yard Incident."

A. The "Deineen Incident"

In January 2011, Conductor and Local 340 member James Deineen was injured while applying a handbrake on duty. After his injury and before the end of his shift, Deineen called Mr. Conrad to ask what he should do. Mr. Conrad told him to make sure he reported his accident before clocking out for the day. Deineen took Mr. Conrad's advice, reported his accident, and ended his shift. After submitting his time card, his managers asked Deineen to return to the train-yard and recreate his accident. Deineen called Mr. Conrad again, this time inquiring as to whether he should comply with those directions. Believing that Deineen was due for a rest period as required by the Hours of Service Act, Mr. Conrad advised Deineen not to return to the yard. Afterward, Mr. Conrad reported the incident to a Federal Railroad Administration representative after first informing Trainmaster Ron Baer of his intent to do so.

Then, in February 2011, four CSX managers - Trainmaster Mike Drummond, Trainmaster Eric Koelker, Cumberland Terminal Superintendent Ray Morriss, and Assistant Terminal Superintendent Keith Stafford - were stopped along the line of road west of Cumberland in order to observe an approaching train. Mr. Conrad, the conductor of the train, stopped the train at a bow-handled switch and, according to the managers, before checking the switch, operated it with one hand. Mr. Stafford spoke with Mr. Conrad about the potential infraction. CSX charged Mr. Conrad with a "serious offense" for violating the safety policy requiring a conductor to check the switch before operating and then to operate the switch with two hands. Mr. Conrad requested an administrative "time out"[1] in lieu of a formal discipline procedure. The time out request was granted and the meeting - for which Conrad was paid - was held on March 3, 2011.

B. The "Demmler Yard Incident"

In August 2011, Mr. Conrad received a call from engineer and Local 340 member Scott Sechler regarding a developing situation outside of the Demmler Yard in western Pennsylvania. Sechler's train ran out of fuel near the Yard and was blocking the CSX main line. Sechler and his crew had been ordered to retrieve a locomotive from the Demmler Yard to move the train. Sechler, however, was concerned that he and his crew were not qualified to enter the yard because of its low clearances and potentially unsafe areas. Mr. Conrad, based on his knowledge of a settlement agreement between CSX and the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission, forbid Sechler and his crew from entering the Demmler Yard because they were not trained in handling the low clearance conditions in the Yard. Mr. Conrad reemphasized the safety risk in conversations with Trainmaster Danielle Renner.

Later that month, Senior Road Foreman of Engines Bill Diamond and Mr. Baer were performing operational testing in CSX's Cumberland Yard where Conrad was operating a train. That afternoon, Mr. Diamond and Mr. Baer assert that they observed Conrad operate in the Yard without his radio on, fail to use proper identification in conducting a radio check, and fail to use both hands at all times when operating a switch. CSX formally charged Conrad for these violations. There has been no hearing on the second charge since Conrad has been away from work due to an injury.

Upon exhausting his administrative remedies, Conrad filed this action. The parties have engaged in discovery, and CSX moved for summary judgment on all counts. ECF No. 19. The Court initially denied summary judgment, ECF No. 27 and 28, and CSX moved for reconsideration, noting that the Court's opinion did not address all of its dispositive arguments. ECF No. 29. In reviewing the file and in the interest of avoiding duplicative briefing, the Court agreed and vacated its prior memorandum and order to reconsider CSX's motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 30. The Court will grant CSX's Motion for Summary Judgment in light of Mr. Conrad's failure to carry his burden and demonstrate that CSX employees involved in his discipline knew of his safety enforcement activities.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate if the record before the court "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). See also Felty v. Graves-Humphreys Co., 818 F.2d 1126, 1128 (4th Cir. 1987) (noting that trial judges have "an affirmative obligation... to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial" (internal quotation marks omitted)). A fact is material if it might "affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In determining whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, the Court "views all facts, and all reasonable inferences to be drawn ...


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